Konica Big Mini BM-201 Camera Review

Another Cult Classic

9 min read by
5

Konica Big Mini BM-201’s design must’ve been an inspiration for one of the smallest and most capable point-and-shoot cameras ever made: Minolta TC-1. Launched six years prior, Big Mini featured a sharp 𝒇3.5 lens in a handsome package complete with autofocus, autoexposure, and a very simple yet effective selection of compensation and flash modes. Yet BM-201 today sells for less than a fifth of what Minolta TC-1 goes for.

In this review, I will compare the iconic TC-1 and Big Mini 201 cameras, followed by a deep dive into the features, ergonomics, and image quality of Konica’s pretty silver soap-bar-shaped point-and-shoot.

I also compare Big Mini BM-201 to the next generation’s more plasticky yet slightly better in-use Big Mini BM-302 in this article.

Konica Big Mini BM-201 vs. Minolta TC-1.

BM-201 was released in 1990, followed by TC-1 in 1996. Both cameras made it to the market years before their businesses merged — in 2003 to become Konica Minolta — and thus had no affiliation during the design phase. Still, it’s difficult to ignore the striking solid cuboid (rectangular block) lens barrel that sets those cameras apart.

Minolta TC-1 uses a cuboid (rectangular block) lens barrel design.

Minolta’s premium point-and-shoot lets you select (perfectly circular) apertures and control exposures/focus in a variety of ways. Big Mini’s exposure controls are limited to exposure compensation and flash modes. TC-1’s numerous controls are very intuitive and fast to set. Unfortunately, Big Mini’s are not nearly as reliable (common issues described below).

I prefer the minimalist front plate look of the BM-201 cameras. Despite their relatively low price tag, 201s look no less next to their premium cuboid-barrelled cousin.

Big Mini’s clean design and relatively low price aren’t the only advantages it has over TC-1. When shooting objects 0.5m-0.6m (1’-2’) away, BM-201 activates a close-up (macro) mode that, amongst other things, creates decent bokeh/background separation with its slightly longer 35mm lens. TC-1’s minimum focus distance remains .45m or 1’5¾”.

Minolta TC-1 with its lens retracted into its tiny titannium shell. Behind it: Chinnon Bellami annd Revue 35XE (both reviewed on Analog.Cafe).

No camera is perfect, of course, and so TC-1 shares its most noticeable flaw with BM-201: a noisy motor. Both cameras are noticeably loud whenever you power them on and after each photo as the film advances to the next frame automatically.

BM-201’s motor sounds almost as loud as a battery-powered screwdriver, while TC-1 resembles a small toy car.

If this bothers you, the next generation Big Mini BM-302 is a huge improvement over both cameras, and it comes in matte black.

There are reasons other than hype TC-1s cost ten times as much as BM-201s. Minolta’s G-Rokkor 28mm 1:3.5 lens has a unique, perfectly-circular aperture design; it’s sharp at all f-stops corner-to-corner, rendering more overall contrast than BM-201’s Konica lens. The smaller, lighter TC-1s also have significantly better controls (quality-built, easier to press buttons), appear to last longer, and take better care of their glass by protecting it with a thin sheet of titanium in the “OFF” position.

A titanium shell wrapping TC-1 is also nice; this material has a lot of neat properties, its high strength-to-weight ratio being one of many.

BM-201’s controls and ergonomics.

Big Minis feel solid in hand. They appear to be high-quality products with well-fitting parts and a metal front enclosure (the back is matte black plastic). BM-201s weigh 188g without their CR123A battery and measure 115mm × 63mm × 34mm (4½” × 2½” × 1⅓”). They aren’t small enough to fit in a tight jean pocket but can rest comfortably in a zip-up hoodie or a small purse.

Konica Big Mini BM-201 with its lens barrel retracted. Notice that the lens remains exposed and there’s no lens cap option.

The power and the shutter buttons are positioned next to each other in a very comfortable spot; you can get this camera ready to take a shot in under five seconds without much trouble.

Unfortunately, the shutter button on these cameras is often hard to press. I’ve missed 2-5 shots per roll as I tried to squeeze the trigger from different angles to get it to work. I highly recommend that you verify with your seller that the power button is in good condition and be willing to take some time to get used to its flawed operation.

Bad button design plagues Big Mini controls; the tiny rubber ones at the back for adjusting your exposure and focus settings are virtually unusable on my copy without a pencil to push them in. In addition, the tiny rubber buttons are flush with the hard plastic back, too small for my fingers. I can’t imagine being a smaller person would help either — these suckers are around 3mm or ⅛” in diameter!

BM-201’s mildly-concerning always-exposed lens design combined with the fairly serious operational flaws aren’t necessarily preventing this camera from being a good daily shooter. Big Mini has an accurate, fairly fast autofocus and a large viewfinder with parallax markings in bright lines, plus camera function indicators. It’s hard to say no to the experience of seeing well through the camera while also looking chic with such a pretty device.

Konica Big Mini BM-201 with Ilrord HP5+. Flash operation at night.

It’s also worth noting that no point-and-shoot film camera is misfire-free. And an exposed lens isn’t a big deal once you remember how camera phones work and that scratches on the front element aren’t particularly consequential.

Film cameras come in a variety of conditions. When new or “mint,” these cameras’ shutter buttons should work without the issues I had with mine.

Button-based annoyance aside, I loved getting close-ups of the street summer flowers with my BM and snapping casual shots around the town. It’s simple enough to hand to a friend or a stranger, versatile enough to work in most light conditions (thanks to its excellent flash!) and flexible enough to let you make deliberate exposures with its +1.5/-1.5EV options.

One last thing about camera controls. There are two identically-looking cameras in the Konica Big Mini BM-2xx lineup: BM-201 and BM-202. 201 comes with a date back, whereas 202 does not. Thus if you don’t need an option to stamp dates/times on your film permanently, you may enjoy a less cluttered rear panel design with a BM-202.

Lens operation and image quality.

Big Mini’s somewhat slow 𝒇3.5 Konica lens is nevertheless quite sharp, especially when shot at smaller apertures.

You may find your images getting marginally soft when shooting in the shade with a slower film or when using the close-up mode. However, those flaws are hard to notice unless you look for them and are easy to fix in Photoshop using the Smart Sharpen tool.

More importantly, Big Mini’s Konica lens maintains its sharpness across the frame, avoiding the mildly annoying soft corners Olympus Mju cameras are known for.

Konica Big Mini BM-201 with Kodak Gold 200.
Konica Big Mini BM-201 with Ilrord HP5+.

Big Mini lenses are also good at dealing with flares and chromatic aberration. Though you may still notice some loss of contrast when shooting against strong light, the results are still better than with most older film cameras.

My scans had a good contrast across the frame, which I appreciate. Most shots in this article had no changes except negative inversion and equalization.

Konica’s 𝒇3.5 lenses aren’t fast enough to shoot slow films in subdued light without flash. Thankfully, the built-in flash is really good on BM-201s, and for those looking to get a strong bokeh effect, the camera’s macro mode makes it possible if you’re willing to get close to your subject.

Konica Big Mini BM-201 with Ilrord HP5+.
Konica Big Mini BM-201 with Ilrord HP5+.

It’s easy to make pretty photographs with Big Mini BM-201s. It has a nice lens, and its focus is reasonably fast and fairly accurate — I’ve got a couple of images on my roll with the focus wrong, but that was partially my fault.

Although I wish the camera didn’t err on the side of underexposure. This makes it slightly less suitable for C-41 film in complex lighting situations, although it may be a good thing with monochrome films (for more contrast) and some slide films like Ektachrome E100.

Shopping for Konica Big Minis.

Most Big Minis you’ll find today will be coming from Japan. They used to be cheap, but as the interest in film photography grew, they’ve been “rediscovered” by the point-and-shoot crowd.

Depending on the camera’s condition, you’ll be able to find one today for anywhere between $150 and $350. As always, I recommend you read the description, look at the photos and ask all your questions (i.e., does the camera have any issues and how was it tested?) before buying on eBay — where most of these cameras are sold.

By the way: Please consider making your Konica Big Mini BM-201 camera purchase using this link  so that this website may get a small percentage of that sale — at no extra charge for you — thanks!